'U Turn' Marks Crossroads For McKnight

Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.

Love ballads are still his forte, but the edgier side of singer/songwriter/producer/musician Brian McKnight claims equal time on his sixth studio album, "U Turn." Arriving in stores March 25, the Motown/Universal release finds McKnight collaborating with rappers Nelly, Fabolous, and Six John as well as noted hip-hop producer Rockwilder.

In one respect, "U Turn" picks up where McKnight's 2001 album, "Superhero," left off. On that set, the R&B veteran laid down tracks that reflected his interest in hip-hop and other genres like rock and gospel. Along for that ride were such guests as rappers Nate Dogg and the St. Lunatics, gospel's Fred Hammond, and pop's Justin Timberlake.

Though McKnight is no stranger to stepping outside R&B's perceived boundaries -- Sean "P. Diddy" Combs lent his production skills to McKnight's 1997 "Anytime" -- he says people still seem surprised that "I listen to Eminem, Snoop Dogg, and Dr. Dre. I've always checked out other music and have always worked with other people. This album represents every side of me."

The artist also refers to "U Turn" as "my coming out, my reinvention. I changed management [formerly with the Trawick Group, McKnight is now managed by Silas White of Los Angeles-based McKnight Entertainment], my children are older, and I'm single now. I'm doing a lot of things I wouldn't have done before."

What he has done before -- romantic ballads -- is represented here by such tunes as current single "Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda." Produced by the Underdogs (who co-wrote the song with McKnight), the song recently jumped to No. 54 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart. BET is currently airing the video for the track, which was directed by Frank Sacramento and McKnight and stars actress Vivica A. Fox.

With McKnight's hip-hop side covered by the energetic "All Night Long" (with Nelly) and the Rockwilder-produced title track (with Fabolous and Six John), and his inspirational bent underscored by Kirk Franklin on "One of the Ones Who Did," McKnight's R&B/soul muse takes root in "Good Enough," which features fellow R&B crooners Joe, Carl Thomas, Tyrese, and Tank.

Even so, McKnight concedes rap/hip-hop's dominance these days. But don't count him out yet. "Ten years ago you had to take raps out to get played," McKnight says. "Now it seems like you have to put them in to get played. For those of us who sing, it's hard. But I'm still a traditional person: You have to get radio to get success. If I want to become obsolete, I'll go against what's out there.

"I try to write songs and tempos that play on radio," he continues. "I'm always cognizant of what's going on. So 'U Turn' has hip-hop, it has R&B... it has something for everyone."

Excerpted from the March 29, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com Premium Serivces section.

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